Berton E. Nunnelee
Biography: Berton Easter Nunnelee, “Bert”, was born on April 7, 1912, in Kinta, Oklahoma. He was the son of Rufus A. Nunnelee and Laura B. Malone. The 1920 U.S. Census shows the family living in Portum, OK. At some point, they moved to Arkansas and he completed schooling through the 7th grade in Hatfield, AR.
On January 13, 1934, he married the former Helen White who was born in Mena, AR, and was the daughter of Jasper H. White and Alice T. Graves. They had one son, Harlan Eugene. The couple divorced in 1938. Prior to entering the entering the military, Bert had worked at various lumber camps in the Southwest operating track type tractor log skidders, helping with road construction, performing minor repairs on the tractors and operating the loading machine and skid line.
Service Time: Bert entered the Army on November 2, 1943, at Fort Bliss, Texas. We don’t have any information on his stateside service but he arrived in the ETO (European Theatre of Operations) on June 5, 1944. At some point, he was assigned to Company B of the 813th Tank Destroyer Battalion. We don’t know if this occurred while the unit was still in England or, more likely, he joined them as a replacement at a later date. The 813th landed in Normandy on June 27th but Bert’s Report of Separation does not credit him with the Normandy Campaign. He served as a Tank Destroyer driver.
The 813th had been activated on December 15, 1941, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and completed all of their training at that location. They shipped out from the New York port on August 5, 1942, and arrived in England on the 17th. Four months later were again on board, traveling to North Africa. They arrived there on December 14th and participated in the Tunisia Campaign, working with British and French forces as well as the U.S. 34th Infantry Division. Part of the battalion went to Sicily, Italy, with the 3rd Infantry Division and the 13th Field Artillery Brigade. In the summer of 1943, a portion of the battalion participated in the invasion of Italy.
In November of that same year, the entire battalion set sail for England and began training for the invasion of France. They boarded transports and landed in Normandy, at Utah Beach, on June 27, 1944, where they were attached to the 79th Infantry Division. The 813th joined the drive to Le Mans and then moved north to Alencon at the Falaise Gap and were the first armored unit to cross the Seine River. They entered Belgium on September 2nd, later fighting around the Foret de Parroy, in October, and supported the advance toward Strasbourg in November. Bert was awarded a Purple Heart Medal for wounds received on November 4, 1944. All companies were off the front line, performing maintenance and having a rest period. Unit records do not mention any enemy action during that time.
Battling the German Nordwind offensive in January, 1945, they partially re-equipped with M18 tank destroyers after heavy losses. The unit shifted to Belgium in February, re-equipping again with M36 tank destroyers, and crossed the Rhine River March 24th, participating in the reduction of the Ruhr Pocket. They then conducted a long road march south to Ulm and took on military government duties in early May.
At some point, Bert was transferred to Headquarters Company. Following the end of combat, he was soon transferred to the 776th Tank Destroyer Battalion. This transfer was related to the points system used by the military to determine when a soldier was eligible to return home. Bert left the service, at the rank of Technician Grade 5, on January 9, 1946, at Fort Bliss, TX. In addition to the Purple Heart, he earned the EAME, with credit for the campaigns of Northern France, Rhineland and Central Europe, the Good Conduct and WWII Victory medals.
Returning home, Bert soon moved to Oregon and was again working for various lumbering companies. In March, 1952, while living in Lorane, Oregon, he married Wynona G. Schoonmaker who was the daughter of Alexander S. Strange and Ethel H. Gray. They had a daughter, Laura B. In 1956, the couple separated and family correspondence shows he lived in numerous locations in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. At some point, Bert moved back to Oklahoma. A Baptismal Certificate dated January 22, 1967, shows him living in Stanley, OK. His 1975 membership card for the American Legion, Post 297, indicates Watson, OK as his home.
Bert passed away on December 23, 1975, and was buried in the A.L. Stephens Cemetery, Clayton, OK. Thank you to Bert’s granddaughter, Sherri, for providing the photo and information used in this tribute. Thank you also to Find a Grave member “magpie” for providing the grave marker photo.